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Training is not only for sport, but for spiritual growth, Pope Francis tells members of ‘Sport in Vaticano’

A woman from the "Sport in Vaticano" Association greets Pope Francis after a meeting at the Vatican Feb. 9, 2023, to mark 50 years since the organization began coordinating sporting competitions in the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — The training, discipline and motivation needed even by amateur athletes are also tools for spiritual growth, Pope Francis said.

Speaking to members of the “Sport in Vaticano” Association Feb. 9, the pope asked the athletes to be examples of teamwork and collaboration.

“Sports are a metaphor for life,” he said, and “healthy competition can contribute to making one’s spirit mature.”

The association sponsors competitions between Vatican employees representing different departments. The group met with the pope to mark 50 years since it first organized a sporting competition in the Vatican in 1972.

Pope Francis explained that athletes must develop a passion for their sport to prevent competition from become “corrupted” by various interests. He also asked the athletes to become “disciples” of their sport and to never become stagnant in their training.

Pope Francis blesses amateur athletes from the “Sport in Vaticano” Association at the Vatican Feb. 9, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“The true sportsman always seeks to learn, to grow, to improve and this requires discipline,” he said. “Discipline then allows everyone to play their part, and for the team to best express itself as a whole.”

Pope Francis urged them to draw from their inner strength to always move forward, just as an athlete does in a race, and to stay faithful to their calling in sports and in life.

The pope also highlighted the long history of sport in the Vatican, and noted that an early form of soccer was first played in Vatican City in 1521 in the presence of Pope Leo X.

Until 2015 soccer was the only sport organized by the group, and still its “Supercoppa Vaticana” soccer competition is its most popular event. In November, the team from the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital won the 2022 cup by beating the team of the Vatican police.

The association also organizes matches among teams of women and sponsors family sporting activities. It recently added pickleball to its offerings.